Memories of life in Manas (Part 2)
The poor little tiger cub
This little fellow stayed with us for only a few days. It was an orphaned cub, the mom had been killed by poachers. I remember how excited everyone was, regarding its future and upbringing. I did not think it to be big deal then. The cub seemed more like a kitten to me, the way it would keep on crying. Unfortunately, it died one day when Deta had gone on leave to drop us off at our grandmother’s place. It had been a big setback then and I remember my parents getting quite upset.
I recall telling my new friends about the tiger cub when we shifted to Guwahati from the jungle. They had rolled their eyes and were absolutely incredulous till they saw the photographs. I was amazed, in turn, that the city kids had never seen a tiger in their lives. But the best moment remains the time when one of the kids’ moms had asked me once - what we did in the late afternoons (play time) in Manas. I remember replying innocently that I would be generally found riding on elephant back as that was the time the domestic elephants were brought for feeding. I could never understand why she had sniggered then.
Celebrating Republic Day
I loved 26th January in Manas. It meant waking up early and going to Deta’s office grounds to attend the flag hoisting ceremony. A large number of domestic elephants would also arrive on the scene. Deta would unfurl the flag, step back, look up and give a smart salute. Instantly, at that moment, the mahouts would cry ‘Salaam!’ to the elephants and they would curl their trunks upward as a salute. I just loved being a part of that ceremony and sing our national anthem throatily, albeit off-tune.
Deta’s office grounds have remained imprinted on my mind forever, for a very different reason. I remember seeing it full of people from the tea gardens adjacent to the forest one day. Apparently, a drunk tea garden employee who entered the jungle had been carried off by a tiger. The forest department was blamed for his death and hundreds of tea garden employees had surrounded Deta’s office, armed with spears, sickles, iron rods and double-edged axes. We could see the entire drama unfolding from our bungalow. I must have been around 4 years old then. All the women had congregated at our bungalow, comforting each other, with their husbands trapped in the office. Suddenly news reached us that Deta had received a blow from an axe when he had gone out to resolve the issue.
I remember how madly Ma had wailed on receiving the news. Later when Deta came back to the bungalow, my 2 year old sis had giggled seeing the blood on his shirt, thinking he had played Holi somewhere. It was a miracle that Deta survived that deadly attack. The man-eater tiger was caught by Deta and his men later and we had gone to see the captive tiger. Deta was awarded for his action and he was coerced to go to Delhi to collect his award from the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. The award today lies somewhere in our store room, or may have got lost. I never saw it after the day Deta had returned with it from Delhi.
Part 1 here.